Faith was born into a family of adversity. She was the daughter of an only daughter who had married young, given birth to four children of her own, and watched her husband walk out of her life, and the lives of her children, so that he could find himself somewhere on the West Coast. Faith had watched her mother struggle as she had raised those four kids on her own. They lived in Public Housing, scratched and scraped to make ends meet, and overcame obstacle after obstacle. Faith’s mother had lost a child just one year after she was born. The baby boy had come down with the “fever” – Faith didn’t know what the “fever” was, but she had heard her mother speak about it often and each time she had tears in her eyes. Faith hoped she would never get the “fever” because she didn’t want to see her mother cry. Faith had two brothers, both older, who were still alive, but for how long nobody knew. They were caught up in life on the streets. Before they were out of high school both of them had already been in jail. They were rarely at home since mom had rules…rules they were not willing to follow.
Faith’s mother was often sick. She battled diabetes and high blood pressure. She fought constant headaches and depression. Her life, from the time she had been young, had been one battle after another and yet she refused to give in. She never complained to Faith. She believed that childhood was a time to laugh, play with your friends, and not be burdened by the heavy load that can accompany life as an adult. Mom didn’t have to educate her daughter about the hardships of life — Faith was very observant. She had heard her mother say to her brothers, “If your father was here…” with sorrow and loneliness in her voice. She had watched her brothers get in trouble and then have to pay the price for their devilish deeds. There were many times, long after Faith was supposed to be asleep, that she had seen her mother kneeling beside her bed, crying on Someone’s shoulder that wasn’t in the room.
There was a neighbor who lived next door to Faith and her family. Mrs. Franks was a little old lady who lived alone. She often worked in the yard and spoke to Faith every time she was outside. Mrs. Franks had lost her husband in a car wreck. She had never had children and so Faith was a child she could love. Mrs. Franks was unlike anyone Faith had ever known. As a ten year old your world is pretty small, but Mrs. Franks painted big pictures for Faith and her future. She told Faith that God had a plan for her life. She told Faith that God had His hand on her and that He would never leave her. She gave Faith her first Bible – it wasn’t new, just a Bible that Mrs. Franks had in her home, but it was priceless to the little girl who hardly ever got a gift. Mrs. Franks was like a broken record as she told Faith about those who lived long ago who had trusted God when life was tough and had never been let down. Faith listened.
Faith not only listened to Mrs. Franks, but she began to read the stories for herself. She read about Esther, Rahab, Ruth and Naomi. She read about Deborah, Hagar, and her favorite, Mary. Faith read about how God had taken care of these women and how they had faith that He would do it again. “Faith” became more than a name for a little girl – it became her heartbeat. She began to pray for her mother, her brothers, the father she hadn’t seen in such a long time. She began to pray about everything and her conversations with God were real…He was real.
Faith went on to grow up, get married, and endure hardships of her own. She never saw her father again, her brothers continued to float in and out of jail, and she buried her mother just three months before Faith was married. With all of the change, all of the loss, and all of the pain in Faith’s life there was one constant that never wavered regardless of what else was taking place in her life. Faith knew that whatever might be taken away, whatever losses she may suffer; she had been given a priceless possession that would never tarnish nor fade away…faith.
Faith knew the lesson that God desires for all of His children – the encouragement shared by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 11:6: 6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 NIV)
Without faith it is impossible to please God. If I would have been writing this chapter of the book of Hebrews I might have expounded a little more. I might have also added, “Without faith it is impossible to live a life of contentment, to find joy, lasting joy, or to have confidence to face each new day with the assurance that it all matters.” God didn’t use me to write the eleventh chapter of Hebrews so we will stick to God’s Word this morning – “without faith it is impossible to please God.”
Not everyone is like Faith. Few people can go through hardships and believe that God is still at work. Few can suffer such loss and know in their hearts that God “rewards” those who earnestly seek Him. This will continue to be the case as long as we believe “rewards” are material gifts like new homes, fancy cars, an abundance of cash, and happiness — with a smile like a cheerleader after the big victory. Few find faith in the midst of suffering, hardships, setbacks, and heartache.
I know there are many, many people in our society today who find it almost impossible to cling to faith when the evidence is lacking, when hard times are sapping the life out of them, and when self-preservation seems to be the most sane approach to life when our world begins to crumble.
Faith is not fashionable. Faith is not the topic of many classes in the halls of higher learning. Faith is not based on empirical evidence. Faith is not a rabbit’s foot. Faith is an absolute reliance on God and His power. Faith is a resting place in the whirlwind of doubt, confusion, and anxiety. Faith is an unflinching response to move forward with God, trusting in His promises, when everything within us says “retreat, give in,” and “give up – just throw in the towel!”
I know there are far more people today who would choose to respond to life according to their experiences, rather than according to God’s promises, but faith calls us to cling to God and trust in Him with absolute confidence that He is able. You lay out the problem, you state the predicament – He is able! With that said, I know there are more people like the late Henry Louis Mencken today than the little girl whose heart pounded with faith in Almighty God. For those of you unfamiliar with H.L. Mencken, let me share his story. Henry Louis Mencken was born on September 12, 1880. He grew up in Baltimore, Maryland where his dad owned a cigar factory. Henry, who later was simply known as H.L., seemed destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. He worked for his father after studying at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute until 1899.
In 1899, Mencken left his father’s factory and began writing for several local Boston area newspapers. Two of the more prestigious papers that he worked for were the Baltimore Herald Tribune and Baltimore Sun. He worked as a newspaper writer for the first ten years of his newspaper career. His career as a journalist quickly launched him into the literary world as both a freelance writer and an editor of his own journal, The American Mercury. The scope of Mencken’s writings was extremely broad. He wrote about, and had an opinion about, everything under the sun. He satirized the American south after the Scopes Monkey trial. He was critical of American democracy. He joked about Prohibition. He challenged the place of women in society. He was a huge advocate of free speech and he was an antagonist of religion. He was known throughout his life as a general critic and commentator on American society. Some of Mencken’s most notable quotes that have endured long after his death will cause you to stand up and take note, maybe even bristle. Mencken said,
Life on this earth is not only without rational significance, but also apparently unintentional. The cosmic laws seem to have been set going for some purpose quite unrelated to human existence. Man is thus a sort of accidental by-product, as the sparks are an accidental by-product of the horseshoe a blacksmith fashions on his anvil. The sparks are far more brilliant than the horseshoe, but all the same they remain essentially meaningless. They constitute, at best, a disease of the horseshoe–they involve a destruction of its tissue. Perhaps life, in the same way, is a disease of the cosmos. (H.L. Mencken)
Mencken had much to say about God, the nature of humanity, and faith. Never did he utter a word in defense of faith or of God’s Sovereign work throughout history. Mencken spoke of God’s failed plan when he wrote these biting words.
Man’s limitations are also visible in his gods. Yahweh seems to have had His hands full with the Devil from the start. His plans for Adam and Eve went to pot, and He failed again with Noah. His worst failure came when He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to rescue man from sin. It would be hard to imagine any scheme falling further from success. (H.L. Mencken)
His most famous quote about faith goes as follows. “Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.” (H.L. Mencken 1880-1956)
Most people today are not as virulently opposed to the idea of God or as convinced that believers, people of faith, are complete imbeciles, as H.L. Mencken. As a matter of fact, most people in the United States say they are believers today. Poll after poll would point us in the direction of believing that there is an endless stream of believers running throughout this great land, but I would caution you to not be so easily misled. Being a “believer” and having the kind of faith that is written about in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews are two different things. James wrote about some “believers” as he cautioned the people of his day.
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder. (James 2:19 NIV)
In our study for this morning, found in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, we find a list of folks who exhibited faith with reckless abandon in Almighty God. Each of their stories deserves our time, but for this morning we are going to take a look at the one common ingredient that led to their being included in the “Great Hall of Faith.” The great Christian writer, Oswald Chambers, once wrote,
Living a life of faith means never knowing where you are being led. But it does mean loving and knowing the One who is leading. It is literally a life of faith, not of understanding and reason-a life of knowing Him who calls us to go. Faith is rooted in the knowledge of a Person, and one of the biggest traps we fall into is the belief that if we have faith, God will surely lead us to success in the world. The final stage in the life of faith is the attainment of character, and we encounter many changes in the process. We feel the presence of God around us when we pray, yet we are only momentarily changed. We tend to keep going back to our everyday ways and the glory vanishes. A life of faith is not a life of one glorious mountaintop experience after another, like soaring on eagles’ wings, but is a life of day-in and day-out consistency; a life of walking without fainting. (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest.)
The list of those who lived a life of faith, trusting in God through the good times and the bad, is diverse, but each of them lived what Oswald Chambers wrote long before it was popularized in any book. There is the father of our faith – Abraham. The young Joseph, who was ridiculed by his brothers, is there as well. The prostitute Rahab was stunned when she received word that she had made it. Mighty Samson, arrogant, but humbled by God is there. Enoch, who walked with God and was taken to heaven before he ever tasted death, is immortalized in the Hall. Moses, who confronted the power of Pharaoh with the promises of God made it. Gideon with his rag tag army got his name in print. The greatest King in the history of Israel, King David, made it…flaws and all. The prophets who were willing to stand in the presence of political power and say, “Thus saith the Lord…” also made the list. The list goes on and on of those who trusted in God rather than trusting in themselves. What kind of faith was it that landed these ordinary people on such an extraordinary list? Let me share just a couple of stories. I didn’t mention Noah, but he is there in verse 7. Read along with me as we see one of the most illogical and irrational stands ever taken by any man. 7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Hebrews 11:7 NIV)
We’ve all heard of Noah’s ark. Nurseries are decorated with images of the animals entering two-by-two. Tons of tots know the story of the old man who built a boat for no other reason than because God told him to. What many people don’t realize is that when Noah first began building his ark, no person had ever seen a drop a rain. According to Genesis 6:3, Noah worked on the ark for 120 years. 120 years of gathering Gopher wood. 120 years of checking the dimensions God had given him. 120 years of hammering, sawing, and sealing the gigantic ark that was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. 120 years of listening to the fine citizens of his city laugh and snicker and try to get Noah committed for something they just didn’t understand.
When the animals began to slowly make their way onto the ark the people gathered to laugh out loud, but Noah just continued to do what God had said to do. When the first drop of rain fell, the people wondered what was going, but Noah just kept working. No one was laughing when the waters began to rise. When Noah and his family entered the ark and the Lord shut the door tight – Noah heard a knock. “Hey, Noah. It’s wet out here. Can’t we come in? Noah, I was just teasing. I didn’t really mean anything by what I said.” “Noah, my family is small. We won’t take up much room. Open up Noah.” But it wasn’t Noah that had the key.
Just so you aren’t led to believe that Noah’s salvation came about because of his industriousness or ingenuity let me read to you from Genesis 6:5-8. 5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth-men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air-for I am grieved that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. (Genesis 6:5-8 NIV) Noah found favor in the eyes of God. Are our times that much different today? There is sin of every sort all around us. Stories of priest and preachers, called by God to protect, teach, and lead people of all ages into the arms of the Father, forsaking their call and abusing those God has put under their care. There is perversity of every sort running rampant through our hearts and homes. You don’t have to be a Sunday school teacher to know that sin is present and pulsating in the hearts and minds of humanity, but maybe you have found favor in God’s eyes this morning. I pray that God is speaking to your heart right now and drawing you out of sin and into the arms of His Son — Jesus, our ark of safety.
There is another faithful man on the list that you need to know about. Gideon made the list. You can read about him in the book of Judges. Gideon was a Judge in Israel, but the land was without rest because the Amalekites and Midianites were constantly raiding the land. Gideon had an army of 32,000. They were grossly outnumbered, but God told Gideon, “We’ve got to get rid of some of these guys. There are too many!” Gideon had seen the armies of the Midianites and Amalekites with over 100,000 men. He heard God, but he couldn’t believe his ears. Gideon said, “Have you checked their roster lately?” God said, “There are too many.” In Judges 7, we read, 2 Then the LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men to defeat the Midianites. I don’t want the Israelites to brag that they saved themselves. 3 So now, announce to the people, ‘Anyone who is afraid may leave Mount Gilead and go back home.’” So twenty-two thousand men returned home, but ten thousand remained. (Judges 7:2-3 NCV)
If I would have been Gideon I would have had my backpack slung over my shoulder, called Connie on my cell phone, and said, “Get supper ready honey, I’m coming home.” Gideon stayed put even though he didn’t understand what was going on. God wasn’t finished with thinning out the ranks of Gideon’s army. By the time it was all over Gideon had just 300 men to fight the enemy. Guess what? They won! God did as He said He would do – He handed the enemy over to Gideon’s army. Judges 8 tells us that 120,000 men died at the hands of Gideon’s “God ordained” army!
Gideon would never have gone to battle if common sense had plotted his battle plan. A rational man would have implemented the draft. A rational man would have stalled until he could have come up with a better plan. A rational man might have chosen to switch sides and wear the enemy’s colors, but Gideon was no rational man – He was a man of God, a man of faith in the promises in God. Oswald Chambers writes,
Common sense and faith are as different from each other as the natural life is from the spiritual, and as impulsiveness is from inspiration. Nothing that Jesus Christ ever said is common sense, but is revelation sense, and is complete, whereas common sense falls short. Yet faith must be tested and tried before it becomes real in your life. “We know that all things work together for good…” (Romans 8:28) so that no matter what happens, the transforming power of God’s providence transforms perfect faith into reality. Faith always works in a personal way, because the purpose of God is to see that perfect faith is made real in His children. (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest)
The decision to live a life of faith will never come about because you or I have sat down and logically reasoned that it would be beneficial for us to throw caution to the wind and go with God. Ask Gideon. Ask Noah. What does logic or reason have to say to a man who spends his days building a boat when there isn’t a cloud in the sky? What does logic or reason have to say to a man with an army of 300 soldiers in the face of absolute annihilation? I know, some of you are saying, “Those are Bible stories, but my story is different.” I know what you are thinking. Those were extraordinary people and you and I are just plain folks. Nothing could be further from the truth. These people written about in Hebrews 11 were not a “super human race” of people. They were ordinary people who trusted in an extraordinary God who is true to His promises.
Your story may be a little different from Rahab’s story or David’s story or Samson’s story, but there is one common need in all of our stories…faith. What is your story this morning? What insurmountable mountain have you encountered? What chains are holding you captive? What walls have been erected that are holding you? Are you in a marriage that has gone sour? There has been so much hurt, so much pain, so many lies, so many disappointments that you don’t think you could ever regain the love you have lost? You are right, you can’t…but He can restore what the Enemy has stolen if you will have faith that He is able.
Are you lonely because someone you dearly loved died? A son, mother, father, or friend who was closer than any relative you’ve ever known? You’ve cried yourself to sleep so many nights questioning why God would take the one you love. You feel so alone, but you don’t have to stay that way if you will cling to faith. Through the loss of those we love God is showing us that though everyone may leave us…He will not! He is able to fill every empty heart. He is able to comfort every sorrowful soul. He is able, and you can see, but only through the eyes of faith.
Are you a slave to what once was fun? At one time you simply wanted to have your fun drinking with the fellas, smoking a little weed on the weekends, or getting close with someone who would fill your night, but now the fun has led you on a downward spiral. The drinks with the fellas have turned into an everyday duty. You can’t wait to get off from work so that you can hit a few with the guys, or if they aren’t around with yourself. A few drinks have turned into a fifth of whatever you can get your hands on. Smoking weed on the weekends morphed into something you never dreamed could happen. Now you are stealing, lying, and living a life of a criminal so you can get your hands on anything to get you high. Weed doesn’t work any more, but let me assure you that in time neither will crank, crack, crystal, or any powder or pill. Filling your nights with someone to give you some love won’t do it either. You know that now that you’ve allowed your lovers to become not just someone to hold, but images in your mind, on a video screen, or the Internet. The slide of sin is a slippery slope that doesn’t end until it drains you of every bit of life you ever had. Sin is a jealous lover who will not stop until she totally possesses you.
Jesus said, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come that they might have life and have it in abundance.” (John 10:10) The death and destruction that Jesus spoke about are available to all of those who look to their own devices to make life work, to bring about their own happiness, and look out for themselves, but life, abundant life, is available only to those who see through the eyes of faith.
Regardless of where you are or where you have been God will open your eyes to faith if you will just cry out to Him and believe. You need to know that those in this list are not crystal saints whose virtue won God’s approval. Rahab was a prostitute and that label stuck with her the rest of her life. David was a murderer and an adulterer. Noah, when he finally got off the boat, got drunk. Samson had a weakness for women. The list goes on. The Bible doesn’t try to hide what these people were, but it also shines the spotlight on the fact that each of these tarnished, scarred saints cried out to God in desperation and He heard their cry. Won’t you cry out to God this morning? Won’t you believe that He is able? Won’t you, at this moment, close your eyes of doubt, your eyes of sin, your eyes of unbelief and allow Him to open new eyes for you this morning? Eyes of faith, trust, and absolute confidence in the God who is able?